I don’t remember exactly when I fell head over heels for fantasy. If only Goodreads had existed back then! Nevertheless, here are five of the earliest standouts, all of which I still regularly reread today. As it turns out, each one features a strong and determined heroine, so this list also stars the five OG Fierce Female Leads™ I idolized.
1. Alanna: The First Adventure – Tamora Pierce
How can I start this list without the Queen of Fantasy, Tamora Pierce? My mom brought me home Alanna and I was completely and utterly obsessed. Alanna didn’t put up with anyone’s shit, ran away to become a knight when women weren’t allowed to do so, and had to train for endless hours because she was not, in fact, Instantly Good at Everything. Pierce’s other series in the Tortall worlds also featured admirably strong ladies, so I shall lump them all under this header.
2. The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf – Gerald Morris
This series was one of my first ventures into King Arthur’s medieval times. Although The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf is technically the third book in The Squire’s Tales series, Lady Lynet was my favorite female MC. She’s practical, speaks her mind, and is most definitely not a delicate flower waiting to be rescued. I still have my library’s original copy after our dog devoured the corner and I had to (mortifyingly) buy them a new one.
3. Dealing With Dragons – Patricia C. Wrede
I’ve always been particularly fond of dragons, and Dealing with Dragons was such a fun take, with the dragons’ individual personalities and inclination to kidnap princesses for servants. Princess Cimorene was everything a girl could want as a heroine. She’s intelligent, resourceful, and kind. After running away from an arranged marriage to a rather dumb prince, she volunteers for the role of dragon servant, refuses to be rescued, fights off evil wizards, and saves the day.
4. Blue Sword / Hero and the Crown – Robin McKinley
To this day, Aerin still tops my “future baby girl names” list. These two books make up my all-time favorite series, and although they’re set decades apart and feature two different heroines (Aerin and Harry), I have a hard time picking my favorite. The writing is an older style than fantasy these days, but the stories are fantastic and both women become fearless horse-riding warriors. Aerin trains to fight dragons (yay, more dragons!) and Harry trains in the desert to fight Hillfolk and they’re both amazing.
5. Dhampir – Barb & J.C. Hendee
I remember picking this at random from the “New Fantasy” section at my local Borders. (Oh Borders. You were gone too soon.) Although this was 2003 and thus long before the Twilight vampire craze, I remember thinking a vampire hunter sounded awesome. Also, the heroine, Magiere, graced the front cover in all her fierce, badass, sexiness and looked like she could destroy anyone who looked sideways at her (which, as it turns out, is a fact). Little did I know, this series would continue for another thirteen years and thirteen books. But once I was invested…
Fantasy books defined my childhood, and to this day, these five books are still my favorite go-tos for a comforting reread. I also have to credit them with my completely unsupported claim that I could easily spear a dragon whilst skillfully slung low over the side of my trusty horse as we gallop into the setting sun.
What books defined your childhood?? Let’s obsess over them in the comments below!